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Topless 'breast activists' ejected from Tampere public sauna

Staff asked the four women to leave the public sauna because regulations require that female bathers cover the top half of their bodies.

Kuvassa tissiaktivistit Säde Vallaren, Rosina Salovaara ja Meri-Maija Näykki yläosattomissa Rauhaniemen kylpylän rannalla.
'Breast activists' Säde Vallaren, Rosina Salovaara and Meri-Maija Näykki at the Rauhaniemi public spa in Tampere. Image: Sole Vallaren

Activists aiming to 'normalise the nipple' were asked to leave a public sauna on Friday after refusing to cover their breasts, but they have vowed to continue their fight to change rules and norms on women's toplessness.

Nudity in the sauna is very common and generally accepted within Finnish society, but some public saunas request that bathers wear swimwear - especially if men and women share the same sauna space.

One such example is the Rauhaniemi public spa in Tampere, and this regulation led to four topless women being asked to leave the sauna at the weekend because their breasts were visible.

The four women are members of the feminist 'breast activism' group Cult Cunth, which strives to promote gender equality, among other issues. One stated aim of the group is to 'normalise the nipple', which they believe can be achieved by allowing people to see breasts in public, thereby making them a 'normal and neutral' body part.

'Breast activist' Meri-Maija Näykki told Yle that the four women were in the Rauhaniemi sauna for about 20 minutes before they were asked to leave, after another sauna-goer requested that staff remove them.

"He justified the removal on the grounds that the rules required those over the age of 6 to wear swimwear," Näykki said. "We didn’t leave, because we were wearing swimsuits. The rules don’t say what a swimsuit should look like. Our genitals were covered and the nipple is not a genital."

Story continues after the photo.

Rauhaniemen kansankylpylä
There are two communal saunas at the Rauhaniemi facility. Image: Marjut Suomi / Yle
The on-site sauna supervisor then asked the four to leave, again citing the lack of swimwear and the sauna’s right to choose its customers. According to Näykki, the sauna supervisor also argued the removal was based on the the fact that there were children on the beach.

"However, the children did not seem to have been disturbed by our toplessness. Instead, some other customers who made inappropriate comments about our bodies set a bad example for the children," Näykki said.

The activists did try to speak with the sauna's manager by phone, but did not get through, and also sent an email but had not received a reply as of Monday evening.

"Our intention is not to attack the Rauhaniemi spa, but to slowly promote equality through discussion," Näykki said.

The activists did leave the sauna as instructed, but they remained on the beach for a while to sunbathe, Näykki added.

'No need' to change rules

The Rauhaniemi spa is operated and run by an organisation called TaTU Tampere, previously a swimming and social club for the city's factory workers, and executive director Juho Allonen told Yle that bathers must adhere to the sauna's dress standards.

"For females, this means that the upper part of the body is covered. The women were asked to leave because they were topless," he said, adding that he does not think it is necessary to change the rules.

"Rauhaniemi's own rules do not really take a position on what a swimsuit is like. However, there are general modesty standards in Finland that must be followed," Allonen said.

He also told Yle that the organisation will be in contact with the activists, and that generally emails are not answered over the weekend, but he welcomed the opportunity to discuss the issue.

"I think equality needs to be discussed. However, it would be better to talk about this at a higher level than just with one operator, such as at the municipal or state level. It would be good to consider whether the current standards are in order and whether they need to be changed," he said.

Group did not intend to 'cause aggravation'

Activist Näykki said that she has been a regular visitor to the Rauhaniemi sauna for several years.

"But this time me and the rest of the group dared to go there topless for the first time. It’s easier to go together, because being topless is also often associated with a threat of being mistreated," Näykki said.

In 2018, tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reported that police in Hyvinkää removed a topless woman from a city beach. According to Finnish law, 'sexual immorality' can occur if an act takes place in public and causes aggravation to other people.

However, it is not possible to unambiguously define an act that violates sexual morality, because it depends on the deed itself and the context. For example, sunbathing naked on a nudist beach is acceptable, but being naked at a public event could be considered a public violation of sexual morality.

Näykki says that the group's intention was to enjoy a warm summer's day by going to the sauna and for a swim, and not to make a political statement or cause aggravation.

"We just wanted to go to the beach and have a sauna. We thought we would be at the point now that toplessness would not be a problem, but that was not the case," Näykki said, adding the Cult Cunth group's activists intended to continue to sauna and swim topless.

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